This is a re-working of my posts on the other forum, with some additional remarks.
As I said in my introduction post I have a completely new understanding of Theravada Buddhism. The result of twenty years of study of the five nikaya's. This new understanding is so different that it is hard to know where to start when trying to explain it. Some key points:
1. Perhaps the most important thing of all. The entire teachings are understood in a completely different way by puthujjana's and ariya savaka's. There are two completely different ways to make sense of the teachings.
2. There is another path beyond the noble eightfold path and the highest attainment is tathagata. This higher path is hidden in the teachings. It can be seen in the references to the asekha and ten path factors. The term arahant which is used for the two highest stages of enlightenment is one way of concealing the higher path. The term arahant is also used for those on the
higher path. Asekha is the correct term to use. If we call the highest stage full enlightenment then those who have attained it can be called tathagata. The stage below must be called non-returner, but is very different from the normal understanding of the non-returner. The teachings when properly understood show that such a higher path is required.
In outline, the N8P is to remove the view of self, and the higher path removes the view "I am". The N8P removes the five aggregates of clinging, and the higher path removes the remaining aggregates. The N8P ends "this world" while the higher path ends "another world".
3. The four paths and fruits, and the four (pairs of ) persons are wrong. So is the explanation of these stages by means of the five lower, and five higher fetters. All this seems to be a false description of the path intended for the puthujjana. The correct sequence is puthujjana, ariya savaka ( stream-winner ), non-returner, tathagata. The puthujjana thinks that the three realms really exist and that nibbana is a place beyond them, the place where arahants go when they die. He also misunderstands liberation since he only knows temporary liberation from his own experience ( if he is a monk and does concentration ). How can a true description of the path be given to someone with such a cosmology and world view ? But if lay people are to support the Sangha they must think that they understand, and approve, of what the monks are doing.
4. There is nothing physical in the aggregates. First we must realise that there are three expressions in use in the nikaya's. The aggregates, the five aggregates and the five aggregates of clinging. One of these, either the aggregates, or the five aggregates, is a generic term, in other words, a way to refer to either or both of the two sets of aggregates. Two sets ? Yes, I think so , but this is work in progress and I have not sorted out my confusion about the aggregates. However, there is nothing physical in either of the two sets of aggregates.
The teaching on the aggregates is confusing. I will attempt to explain things as I see them. First, the ariya savakas understanding : There are two sets of aggregates, both sets of aggregates are said to cease. They can cease because they are only mental constructions. They represent the mis-understanding of everything in terms of self or "I am".They are the "self and world" that we have mentally constructed.
Second, the puthujjanas understanding : he is meant to understand form ( rupa ) as actual physical things, probably ones own body. The other four aggregates can then be understood as ones own mind. The five aggregates are thus seen as representing a human being. He understands the five aggregates of clinging to be just clinging to the five aggregates. So for him there is only one set of aggregates, and any talk of aggregates ceasing must be talk about death.
5. Dependent Origination is the insight path to enlightenment ( this is said by Vipassi in DN 14 ) and there is nothing physical in the dependent origination formula. Since everything in the D.O. formula depends on ignorance, and ignorance is psychological, then everything in the formula ( whatever it is called ) is psychological. ( ie. mentally constructed ). Anything that seems to be physical should be re-interpreted as a misunderstanding of the physical, usually in terms of self or the conceit "I am". To clarify this, we are rejecting the three life interpretation, which is intended for puthujjana monks and lay followers. In fact, we reject any temporal ( involving time ) interpretation. These are right for puthujjanas but wrong for ariya savakas. The alternative interpretation is this : The formula is a model of the unenlightened mind. It represents eleven layers of active mental constructions grounded in ignorance. It is these sankhara's which are eliminated in order to attain enlightenment.
6. The three realms do not exist. I will not say much about this. It is perhaps the most controversial idea. I am sure that it is fully understood by those who have completed the noble eightfold path ( ie. non-returners!). But I am not sure if stream-winners have understood it. Dukkha = World, Five Aggregates = Dukha, Therefore : Five Aggregates = World.
Best wishes, Vincent.